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Robinhood, in need of cash, raises $1 billion from its investors

Robinhood, one of the largest online brokerages, has grappled with an extraordinarily high volume of trading this week as individual investors have piled into stocks like GameStop.

January 29, 2021 / 09:03 PM IST
This photo illustration shows the logo of trading application Robinhood on a mobile phone in Arlington, Virginia on January 28, 2021. (PC-AFP)

This photo illustration shows the logo of trading application Robinhood on a mobile phone in Arlington, Virginia on January 28, 2021. (PC-AFP)

Facing an onslaught of demands on its cash amid a stock market frenzy, Robinhood, the online trading app, said Thursday that it was raising an infusion of more than $1 billion from its existing investors.

Robinhood, one of the largest online brokerages, has grappled with an extraordinarily high volume of trading this week as individual investors have piled into stocks like GameStop. That activity has put a strain on Robinhood, which has to pay customers who are owed money from trades while posting additional cash to its clearing facility to insulate its trading partners from potential losses.

Robinhood: The trading app co-founded by Indian-American caught in GameStop storm

On Thursday, Robinhood was forced to stop customers from buying a number of stocks like GameStop that were heavily traded this week. To continue operating, it drew on a line of credit from six banks amounting to between $500 million and $600 million to meet higher margin, or lending, requirements from its central clearing facility for stock trades, known as the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.

Robinhood still needed more cash quickly to ensure that it didn’t have to place further limits on customer trading, said two people briefed on the situation who insisted on remaining anonymous because the negotiations were confidential.

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Robinhood, which is privately held, contacted several of its investors, including venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Ribbit Capital, who came together Thursday night to offer the emergency funding, five people involved in the negotiations said.

“This is a strong sign of confidence from investors that will help us continue to further serve our customers,” Josh Drobnyk, a Robinhood spokesman, said in an email. Sequoia and Ribbit declined to comment.

Investors who provide new financing to Robinhood will receive additional equity in the company. The investors will get that equity at a discounted valuation tied to the price of Robinhood shares when the company goes public, said two of the people. Robinhood plans to hold an initial public offering this year, two people briefed on the plans said.

Robinhood’s emergency fundraising is the latest sign of how trading in the stock market has been upended this week.

An online army of investors, who have been on a mission to challenge the dominance of Wall Street, rapidly bid up the price of stocks like GameStop, entrapping the big-money hedge funds that had bet against the stocks. Some of these individual investors have reaped huge profits, while at least one major hedge fund had to be bailed out after facing huge losses.

Robinhood, which is based in Silicon Valley, has been key to empowering the online investors. Adoption of the app has soared in the pandemic as the stock market surged and people took up day trading in the void of other pastimes. The company has drawn in millions of young investors who have never traded before by offering no-fee trading and an app that critics have said makes buying stocks feel like an online game.

Without fees, Robinhood makes money by passing its customer trades along to bigger brokerage firms, like Citadel, who pay Robinhood for the chance to fulfill its customer stock orders.

In May, Robinhood said it had 13 million users. This week, it became the most-downloaded free app in Apple’s App Store, according to Apptopia, a data provider.

Critics have accused the company of encouraging people to gamble on stock market movements and risk big losses. Brokerages including T. Rowe Price, Schwab and Fidelity have imitated Robinhood by lowering their trading fees to zero. Many of them were also hit by the crush of trading this week.

Robinhood has had no trouble raising money over the last year, drawing $1.3 billion in venture capital backing and boosting its valuation to nearly $12 billion. Its other investors include venture capital firm DST Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.

Yet the company has faced many issues, including fines from regulators for misleading customers. Last March, it raised more money after its app went down and left customers stranded and nursing big losses, leading to a still ongoing lawsuit.

In recent weeks, many online investors have used Robinhood to make bets that pushed up the price of GameStop, AMC Entertainment and other stocks that had been widely shorted — or bet against — by hedge funds. That changed Thursday after the company curbed customer trading in the most popular stocks.

“As a brokerage firm, we have many financial requirements,” Robinhood said in a blog post Thursday. “Some of these requirements fluctuate based on volatility in the markets and can be substantial in the current environment.”

In protest, hundreds of thousands of users joined a campaign to give Robinhood’s app the lowest one-star review and drive the company’s rating down. Some investors also sued Robinhood for the losses they sustained after the company cut off trading in certain stocks, and several lawmakers urged regulators to exercise more scrutiny of the company.

(Author: Kate Kelly, Erin Griffith, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Nathaniel Popper)/(c.2021 The New York Times Company)
New York Times
first published: Jan 29, 2021 09:03 pm

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